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Sex And Catholic Moral Theology

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For those of you who don’t already know, I’m contributing to the Fearless Press site.


I’m writing a series of articles on Catholic Moral Theology. Look for the series HERE!

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How to Rethink Intimacy When ‘Regular’ Sex Hurts

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There’s no rule that says sex has to be penetrative.

By Breena Kerr

When sex hurts, women often feel alone—but they’re not. About 30 percent of women report pain during vaginal intercourse, according to a 2015 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine which surveyed a subsample of 1,738 women and men ages 18 and older online.

Awareness of painful vaginal sex—sometimes lumped under the term Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD)—has grown as more women talk about their experiences and more medical professionals start to listen.

Many conditions are associated with FSD, including vulvodynia (chronic vulva pain), vestibulodynia (chronic pain around the opening of the vagina), and vaginismus (cramping and tightness around the opening of the vagina). But they all have one thing in common: vaginal or vulval pain that can make penetrative sex anywhere from mildly uncomfortable to physically impossible. However, you can absolutely still have sex, which we’ll get to in a minute.

First and most important, if you are experiencing any type of genital pain, talk to your doctor.

There’s no reason to suffer in silence, even if it seems awkward or embarrassing or scary. Your gynecologist has heard it all and can help (or they can refer you to someone who can). The International Pelvic Pain Society has great resources for finding a licensed health care provider who specializes in genital pain.

“We don’t yet know why women get vestibulodynia or vulvodynia,” Kayna Cassard, M.A., M.F.T., a psychotherapist who specializes in vaginismus and other pelvic pain issues, tells SELF. “[There can be] many traumas, physical and psychological, that become internalized and add to vaginal pain. Women’s pain isn’t just ‘in their heads,’ ” Cassard says.

This kind of pain can affect anyone—regardless of sexual orientation or relationship status—but it can be particularly difficult for someone who mostly engages in penetrative sex with their partner. The important thing to remember is that you have options.

Sex does not have to revolve around penetration.

Hell, it doesn’t even need to include it. And for a lot of people, it doesn’t. Obviously, if P-in-V sex is what you and your partner are used to, it can be intimidating to consider redefining what sex means to you. But above all, sex should be pleasurable.

“The first thing to do is expand what ‘counts’ as sex,” sex educator and Girl Sex 101 author Allison Moon tells SELF. “Many people in heterosexual relationships consider only penis-in-vagina to count as sex, and everything else is some form of foreplay,” she says. But sex can include (or not include) whatever two consensual people decide on: oral sex, genital massage, mutual masturbation, whatever you’re into.

“If you only allow yourself one form of sex to count as the real deal, you may feel broken for enjoying, or preferring, other kinds of touch,” Moon says.

To minimize pain, give yourself time to prepare physically and mentally for sex.

That might sound like a lot of prep work, but it’s really about making sure you’re in the right mindset, that you’re relaxed, and that you’re giving your body time to warm up.

Heather S. Howard, Ph.D., a certified sexologist and founder of the Center for Sexual Health and Rehabilitation in San Francisco, publishes free guides that help women prepare physically and mentally for sex. She tells SELF that stretching and massaging, including massaging your vaginal muscles, is especially helpful for women with muscle tightness. (Too much stretching, though, is a bad idea for women with sensitive vaginal skin that’s prone to tearing.)

Starting with nonsexual touch is key, as Elizabeth Akincilar-Rummer, M.S.P.T., president and cofounder of the Pelvic Health and Rehabilitation Center in San Francisco, tells SELF. This puts the emphasis on relaxation so you don’t feel pressured to rush arousal.

Inserting a cool or warm stainless steel dilator (or a homemade version created with water and a popsicle mold) can also help reduce pain, Howard says. Women can tailor the size and shape to whatever is comfortable. If a wand or dilator is painful, however, a cool cloth or warm bath can feel soothing instead. Again, do what feels good to you and doesn’t cause pain.

Several studies have shown that arousal may increase your threshold for pain tolerance (not to mention it makes sex more enjoyable). So don’t skimp on whatever step is most arousing for you. That might mean some solo stimulation, playing sexy music, dressing up, reading an erotic story, watching porn, etc.

And of course, don’t forget lubrication. Lube is the first line of defense when sex hurts. Water-based lubricant is typically the safest for sensitive skin. It’s also the easiest to clean and won’t stain your clothes or sheets. Extra lubrication will make the vagina less prone to irritation, infections, and skin tears, according to Howard. But some people may also be irritated by the ingredients in lube, so if you need a recommendation, ask your gynecologist.

Now it’s time figure out what feels good.

Women with pain often know what feels bad. But Howard says it’s important for them to remember what feels good, too. “Lots of people aren’t asking, ‘What feels good?’ So I ask women to set what their pleasure scale is, along with their pain scale. I ask them to develop a tolerance for pleasure.”

To explore what feels good, partners can try an exercise where they rate touch. They set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes and ask their partner to touch them in different ways on different parts of their body. Sex partners can experiment with location, pressure, and touch type (using their fingertips, nails, breath, etc.) and change it up every 30 seconds. With every different touch, women should say a number from 0 to 10 that reflects how good the touch feels, with 10 being, “This feels amazing!” and 0 meaning, “I don’t like this particular kind of touch.” This allows women to feel a sense of ownership and control over the sensations, Howard says.

Another option is experimenting with different sensations. Think tickling, wax dripping, spanking, and flogging. Or if they prefer lighter touch, feathers, fingers, hair, or fabric on skin are good options. Some women with chronic pain may actually find it empowering to play with intense sensations (like hot wax) and eroticize them in a way that gives them control, according to Howard. But other women may need extremely light touch, she says, since chronic pain can lower some people’s general pain tolerance.

Masturbating together can also be an empowering way for you to show a partner how you like to be touched. And it can involve the entire body, not just genitals, Akincilar-Rummer says. It’s also a safe way for you to experience sexual play with a partner, when you aren’t quite ready to be touched by another person. For voyeurs and exhibitionists, it can be fun for one person to masturbate while the other person watches. Or, for a more intimate experience, partners can hold and kiss each other while they masturbate. It feels intimate while still allowing control over genital sensations.

If clitoral stimulation doesn’t hurt, feel free to just stick with that.

It’s worth noting that the majority of women need direct clitoral stimulation to reach orgasm, Maureen Whelihan, M.D., an ob/gyn in West Palm Beach, Florida, tells SELF. Stimulating the clit is often the most direct route to arousal and climax and requires no penetration.

Some women won’t be able to tolerate clitoral stimulation, especially if their pain is linked to the pudendal nerve, which can affect sensations in the clitoris, mons pubis, vulva, vagina, and labia, according to Howard and Akincilar-Rummer. For that reason, vibrators may be right for some women and wrong for others. “Many women with pelvic pain can irritate the pelvic nerve with vibrators,” says Akincilar-Rummer. “But if it’s their go-to, that’s usually fine. I just tell them to be cautious.”

For women with pain from a different source, like muscle tightness, vibrators may actually help them become less sensitive to pain. “Muscular pain can actually calm down with a vibrator,” Howard says. Sex and relationship coach Charlie Glickman, Ph.D., tells SELF that putting a vibrator in a pillow and straddling it may decrease the amount of direct vibration.

Above all else, remember that sexual play should be fun, pleasurable, and consensual—but it doesn’t need to be penetrative. There’s no need to do anything that makes you uncomfortable physically or emotionally or worsens your genital pain.

Complete Article HERE!

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Affection And Romance Most Popular Forms Of Sexual Behavior, Says New US Study

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Have you ever thought about what your partner might enjoy most behind closed doors? Well, a study from researchers at the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington and the Center for Sexual Health Promotion have shared that it is, in fact, different forms of romantic and affectionate behavior.

Finding new ways to create a romantic spark is something a lot of couples struggle with. However, hugging or simply kissing to set the mood has proven to be the answer for many.

“Contrary to some stereotypes, the most appealing behaviors, even for men, are romantic and affectionate behaviors,” lead author and professor Debby Herbenick said in a statement. “These included kissing more often during sex, cuddling, saying sweet/romantic things during sex, making the room feel romantic in preparation for sex, and so on.”

There are a number of studies that have touched on sexual behavior in the past, but they have either had an age cap or limited forms of sexual behavior explored. The recent study, published in PLOS One, goes into detail about a survey called Sexual Exploration in America Study, in which 2,021 people (975 men and 1,046 women) were recruited to complete it anonymously. The survey included questions on whether participants have engaged in over 30 sexual behaviors and the level of appeal of nearly 50 sexual acts.

Around 80 percent admitted to lifetime masturbation, vaginal sex, and oral sex. Lifetime anal sex was also reported by 43 percent of men (insertive) and 37 percent of women (receptive).

“These data highlight opportunities for couples to talk more openly with one another about their sexual desires and interests,” said Herbenick. “Together they may find new ways of being romantic or sexual with one another, enhancing both their sexual satisfaction and relationship happiness.”

The information gathered showed that many of the volunteers who took part in the survey had engaged in a wide variety of sexual behaviors. The study also shared the type of relationships they were in within the last year, which included being in a monogamous/open relationship or they hadn’t discussed the setup of intimacy.

Other sexual behaviors were wearing lingerie and underwear (75 percent women, 26 percent men) and sending/receiving nude images (54 percent women, 65 percent men). The team mention that while many of the survey participants described a lot of sexual behaviors as appealing, much fewer of them had engaged in the acts in the past month or year.

“These data highlight opportunities for couples to talk more openly with one another about their sexual desires and interests,” said Herbenick. “Together they may find new ways of being romantic or sexual with one another, enhancing both their sexual satisfaction and relationship happiness.”

Although this is just one sexual behavior study, the research within it has several implications for understanding adult sexual behaviors. Many sex educators as well as citizens will have an even better understanding of sexual behaviors amongst adults in the US.

Complete Article HERE!

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Are you a pervert? Challenging the boundaries of sex

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By

Are you a pervert?

I believe you are.

This statement might offend you. Perhaps you wonder what would compel me to say something like that about you, especially since we’ve never met. However, a voice deep down inside of you might wonder if I am right. Maybe that voice is telling you that thing you did or liked may make you abnormal.

Whatever your take on this may be, I invite you to open your mind and explore what might be beyond your comfort zone. Let me entice you with a little bit of what I research as a neuroscientist of sexual behaviour.

Throughout history, those who have not lived under the conformity of social standards of sexuality have been tortured, ostracized, convicted and, in general, have lost their social standing.

In fact, non-conventional sexual practices – and fetishes – are not deviant. Yet there’s a well-established tradition of judging them as if they are. The repercussions of this societal judgment cause the social stigmatization of people we most likely don’t know at all.

One of the most common targets is the Bondage, Domination/Submission, Discipline and Sado-Masochism (BDSM) culture.

Why has society condemned certain intimate practices between consenting adults but not others? The answer possibly lies in wherever our society sets moral standards — generally biased, limited and sometimes political. Instead, normality should be derived by scientific and quantified results.

The Victorian church set sexual standards

The word pervert did not originally mean sexual deviant, but atheist. Pervert described someone who would not ascribe to the normal (church) rules. People who resisted the morality dictated by the church were people who debauched or seduced.

Additionally, the word contains the suffix ‘vert’, meaning to turn, as in, convert. Therefore, pervert described a person who turned away from the right course. The word changed from the moral heretic to the immoral sexual deviant in the Victorian era, when scholars used it to describe patients with “atypical” sexual desires. I imagine in the Victorian era that even a foot fetish would have been considered a perversion.

When it comes to bedroom activities, we often believe that most things we don’t do are wrong and sick. We often judge other people’s realities and behaviours from our limited and biased scope and experience.

Let’s talk about sex and bondage

BDSM is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of consensual sexual or erotic practices. BDSM communities commonly welcome anyone who identifies with their practices. Consider it akin to a book club if you like to read, or like an orchestra if you want to play classical music.

You may imagine or know some of the BDSM practices. But what makes you part of the BDSM culture? Well, there are no rules, but there are three fundamental principles that guide any BDSM practice: consent, safety and respect.

Physical and psychological well-being are a priority over anything: There is no pleasure in a sexual act when one of the parties is not enjoying it.

BDSM practices may require painful and risky stimulation carried out with extreme care. Just as in several other fun activities, such as playing a sport, practice makes perfect. There is only one way of doing things — the right way — and anyone who engages in these practices within the community knows health and safety comes first.

A vintage illustration from the 1950s for an erotic tale, Bizarre Honeymoon.

Normal and sexually satisfied

BDSM and other non-conventional sexual practices are more familiar than you may know. Research has shown that fetishes and BDSM-like practices are very common in the general population. Normal, everyday people commonly fantasize about BDSM-like experiences.

As well, BDSM practitioners and submissive-identified females in particular appear to be more sexually satisfied than the general population. Other studies have revealed increased pleasure, enjoyment and positive effects during BDSM versus non-BDSM sexual experiences.

Although BDSM practitioners were previously believed to have a history of sexual abuse and trauma, studies by medical researcher and professor Norman Breslow in the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality showed these initial ideas were based on hypothetical case studies and not empirical evidence.

As well, more recent studies show that BDSM practitioners do not generally report sexual abuse or childhood trauma. BDSM practitioners also display less depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress symptoms compared to “normal” population standards. Furthermore, BDSM practitioners also report significantly less benevolent sexism, rape myth acceptance and victim-blaming attitudes compared to college students and the general population.

Even male and female rats have been known to develop fetishes.

A universe of possibilities

All these differences do not necessarily mean one needs to embrace more BDSM-like practices. Instead, it’s an invitation to stop judging others, and instead, embrace and enjoy our sexual lives. Fetishes can simply be the expression of our experiences and versatile sexuality in terms of practices, toys or objects that can be incorporated into our intimacy.

It’s up to each individual to choose what is right for themselves. The notion of abnormality in sexuality — with its medical and psychological labels of illness — came about to explain a deviant pattern in the reproductive aspects of mating. But humans, in general, engage in sex because they like it, not necessarily because they want to reproduce. Thus, in the eyes of those who may believe sex only serves for reproduction, any “deviation from reproductive sex” may be abnormal.

There is a universe of possibilities out there to which only you should set the boundaries. Our time in this world is too short and uncertain to deprive ourselves of the pleasures of the flesh and senses simply because someone has a negative opinion about it.

So, let me ask again, are you a pervert?

Complete Article HERE!

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How To Talk To Your Doctor About Sex When You Have Cancer

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More people are surviving cancer than ever before, but at least 60 percent of them experience long-term sexual problems post-treatment.

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So you’ve survived cancer. You’ve endured brutal treatments that caused hair loss, weight gain, nausea, or so much pain you could barely move. Perhaps your body looks different, too—maybe you had a double mastectomy with reconstruction, or an orchiectomy to remove one of your testicles. Now you’re turning your attention back to everyday life, whether that’s work, family, dating, school, or some combination of all of those. But you probably aren’t prepared for the horrifying side-effects those life-saving measures will likely have on sex and intimacy, from infertility and impotence, to penile and vaginal shrinkage, to body shame and silent suffering.

More than 15.5 million Americans are alive today with a history of cancer, and at least 60 percent of them experience long-term sexual problems post-treatment. What’s worse, only one-fifth of cancer survivors end up seeing a health care professional to get help with sex and intimacy issues stemming from their ordeal.

Part of the challenge is that the vast majority of cancer patients don’t talk to their oncologists about these problems, simply because they’re embarrassed or they think their low sex drive or severe vaginal dryness will eventually go away on their own. Others try to talk, but end up with versions of the same story: When I went back to my doctor and told him I was having problems with sex, he replied, ‘Well, I saved your life, didn’t I?’ And many oncologists aren’t prepared to answer questions about sex.

“Sex is the hot potato of patient professional communications. Everyone knows it’s important but no one wants to handle it,” says Leslie Schover, a clinical psychologist who’s one of the pioneers in helping cancer survivors navigate sexual health and fertility. “ When you ask psychologists, oncologists and nurses, ‘Do you think it’s important to talk to patients about sex?’ they say yes. And then you say, ‘Do you do it routinely?’ They say no. When you ask why, they say it’s someone else’s job.”

Schover spent 13 years as a staff psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and nearly two decades at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. After retiring last year, she founded Will2Love, a digital health company that offers evidence-based online help for cancer-related sex and fertility problems. Will2Love recently launched a national campaign called Bring It Up! that offers three-step plans for patients and health care providers, so they can talk more openly about how cancer treatments affect sex and intimacy. This fall, the company is collaborating with the American Cancer Society on a free clinical trial—participants will receive up to six months of free self-help programming in return for answering brief questionnaires—to track the success of the programs.

Schover spoke to Newsweek about the challenges cancer patients face when it comes to sex and intimacy, how they can better communicate with their doctors, and what resources can help them regain a satisfying sex life, even if it looks different than it did before.

NEWSWEEK: How do cancer treatments affect sex and intimacy?
LESLIE SCHOVER: A lot of cancer treatments damage some of the systems you need to have a healthy sex life. Some damage hormone levels, and surgery in the pelvic area removes parts of the reproductive system or damages nerves and blood vessels involved in sexual response. Radiation to the pelvic region reduces blood flow to the genital area for men and women, so it affects erections and women’s ability to get lubrication and have their vagina expand when they’re sexually excited.

What happens, for example, to a 35-year-old woman with breast cancer?
Even if it’s localized, they’ll probably want her to have chemotherapy, which tends to put a woman into permanent menopause. Doctors won’t want her to take any form of estrogen, so she’ll have hot flashes, severe vaginal dryness and loss of vaginal size, so sex becomes really painful. She’ll also face osteoporosis at a younger age. If she’s single and hasn’t had children, she’s facing infertility and a fast decision about freezing her eggs before chemo.

What about a 60-year-old man with prostate cancer?
A lot of men by that age are already starting to experience more difficulty getting or keeping erections, and after a prostatectomy, chances are, he won’t be able to recover full erections. Only a quarter of men recover erections anything like they had before surgery. There are a variety of treatments, like Viagra and other pills, but after prostate cancer surgery, most men don’t get a lot of benefit. They might be faced with choices like injecting a needle in the side of the penis to create a firm erection, or getting a penile prosthesis put in to give a man erections when he wants one. If he has that surgery, no semen will come out. He’ll have a dry orgasm, and although it will be quite pleasurable, a lot of men feel like it’s less intense than it was before. These men can also drip urine when they get sexually excited.

Why are so many people unprepared for these side-effects?
If you ask oncologists, ‘Do you tell patients what will happen?’ a higher percentage—like in some studies up to 80 percent—say they have talked to their patients about the sexual side-effects. When you survey patients, it’s rare that 50 percent remember a talk. But most of these talks are informed consent, like what will happen to you after surgery, radiation or chemotherapy. And during that talk, people are bombarded by so many facts and horrible side-effects that could happen, they just shut down. It’s easy for sex to get lost in the midst of this information. By the time people are really ready to hear more about sex, they’re in their recovery period.

Why is it so hard to talk about sex with your oncology team?
It takes courage to say, ‘Hey, I want to ask you about my sex life.’ When patients get their courage together and ask the question, they often get a dismissive answer like, ‘We’re controlling your cancer here, why are you worrying about your sex life?’ Or, ‘I’m your oncologist, why don’t you ask your gynecologist about that?’ Patients have to be assertive enough to bring up the question, but to deal with it if they don’t get a good answer. Sexual health is an important part of your overall quality of life and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to solve or prevent a problem.

What’s the best way for people to prepare for those conversations?
First, because clinics are so busy, ask for a longer appointment time and explain that you have a special question that needs to be addressed. At the start of the appointment, say, ‘I just want to remind you that I have one special question that I want to address today, so please give me time for that.’ Bring it up before the appointment is over.

Second, writing out a question on a piece of paper is a great idea. If you feel anxious or you’re stumbling over your words, you can take it out and read it.

Also, some people bring their spouse or partner to an appointment. They can offer moral support and help them remember all the things the doctor or nurse told them in answering the question.

So you’ve asked your question. Now what?
Don’t leave without a plan. It’s easy to ask the question, get dismissed, and say, I tried. Have a follow-up question prepared. For example, ‘If you aren’t sure how to help me, who can you send me to that might have some expertise?’ Or, ‘Does this particular hospital have a clinic that treats sexual problems?’ Or, ‘Do you know a gynecologist or urologist who’s good with these kinds of problems?’ If you want counseling, ask for that.

What happens if you still get no answers?
I created Will2Love for that problem! It came out of my long career working in cancer centers and seeing the suffering of patients who didn’t get accurate, timely information. When the internet became a place to get health info, it struck me as the perfect place for cancer, sexuality and fertility. Sex is the top search term on the Internet, so people are comfortable looking for information about sex online, including older people or those with lower incomes.

Also, experts tend to cluster in New York and California or major cancer centers. I only know of six or seven major cancer centers with a sex clinic in the U.S. and there are something like 43 comprehensive cancer centers!

We offer free content for the cancer community, including blogs and forums and resource links to finding a sex therapist of gynecologist. We also charge for specialized services with modest fees. Six months is still less than one session with a psychologist in a big city! We’re adding telehealth services that will be more expensive, but you’re talking to someone with expert training.

What can doctors do better in this area?
For health care professionals, their biggest concern is, ‘I have 40 patients to see in my clinic today and if I take 15 extra minutes with four of them, how will I take good care of everybody?’ They can ask to train someone in their clinic, like a nurse or physician’s assistant, who can take more time with each patient, so the oncologist isn’t the one providing sexual counseling, and also have a referral network set up with gynecologists, urologists and mental health professionals.

 

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